Ukraine recruiting war mercenaries from Tajikistan, Russia’s security council chief reported as saying

Ukraine recruiting war mercenaries from Tajikistan, Russia’s security council chief reported as saying
Nikolay Patrushev, seen in 2015 with Vladimir Putin, claims Ukraine is sourcing Tajik mercenaries from an operation in Dushanbe. /, cc-by-sa 4.0
By bne IntelliNews April 3, 2024

Ukraine is recruiting mercenaries from Tajikistan to participate in the war with Russia, Russian Security Council chief Nikolay Patrushev has been reported as saying.

The claim was noted by Afghan news agency Aamaj News on April 3.

Speaking at the 19th annual meeting of the Security Secretaries of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) member states, held in Kazakh capital Astana, Patrushev reportedly said that Ukraine was recruiting the mercenaries via an operation run out of its embassy in Tajik capital Dushanbe.

If widely reported in Russia, Patrushev’s remarks could cause further difficulties for Tajik and other Central Asian work migrants in the country who have endured a backlash since the March 22 terrorist attack on the Crocus City Hall concert arena in outer Moscow that killed at least 144 people.

Four Tajiks are in pre-trial detention in Russia having been charged with committing the atrocity. Several other Tajiks and a Kyrgyz citizen have been detained, accused of playing various roles in the preparation of the terrorist act.

Patrushev, an ex-KGB officer, was also reported as repeating at the SCO meeting previous statements he has made alleging that the origins of the terrorist attack were in Ukraine, with the Ukrainians under the control of Washington. Moscow has presented no evidence for such assertions, which have been described as ludicrous by Ukraine and the US.

The consensus among analysts who study terrorist groups is that the attack was the work of the Afghanistan-based Islamic State-Khorasan Province (IS-KP, or ISIS-K) affiliate of Islamic State. IS-KP has claimed responsibility for the attack and has even published video-cam footage of scenes apparently recorded by the gunmen as it took place.

On April 3, The Washington Post reported that the US specifically warned Russia that terrorists could attack Crocus City Hall two weeks before the attack took place.

Tajik President Emomali Rahmon is largely seen as a sometimes disputatious but reliable partner to the Kremlin, but he has plenty of enemies among Tajiks opposed to his regime, with any semblance of open Tajik opposition having been forced to quit Tajikistan for a life of exile.      

International terrorist groups “have long looked on Tajikistan as a fertile recruiting ground”, Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center fellow Temur Umarov wrote in a think tank assessment looking at radicalisation of Muslims in the Central Asian nation, published six days after the attack on Crocus City Hall.

The reasons for the radicalisation are no secret, according to the analyst, who observed: “Tajikistan is the only country in Central Asia to have lived through a relatively recent civil war (1992–1997). Some estimates put the brutal war’s death toll at up to 100,000. The social and economic situation in Tajikistan is also one of the worst in Central Asia, with the country ranking 162 in the world by GDP per capita—alongside Haiti. About 70 percent of Tajiks live in rural areas, where child bridespolygamy, and female unemployment are common.

“In the era of digitization and universal transparency, poverty and inequality exacerbate a sense of injustice, and Tajikistan is a corrupt, authoritarian regime where Rahmon and his family own almost everything of value and are not afraid to flaunt their wealth. Over three decades in power, they have destroyed all opposition. That means there are no longer any legal ways to fight injustice. There is only one path for those opposed to the regime: radicalization.”

Media outlets affiliated with ISIS-K produce content in the Tajik language, pointed out Umarov, adding: “They publish religious material and political tracts criticizing Rahmon for being too close to Russia, for his authoritarianism, and for not being religious enough. ISIS-K also runs Tajik-language Telegram channels and TikTok accounts.”

“The Tajik authorities are well aware that they can’t tackle this problem [of radicalisation and terrorism] on their own, so they partner with an array of other countries when it comes to security issues,” added Umarov.

“Cooperation with Russia is both bilateral (Tajikistan hosts Russia’s biggest foreign military base) and via the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organization [CSTO]. China is helping Tajikistan build police bases on the border with Afghanistan; the United States assists with border security; India rents an aerodrome; and Iran is opening a drone assembly line.

“These measures do little to stop the radicalization of Tajik society, however. Dushanbe has not been able to come up with anything other than harsh repression, which only drives the problem underground and often exacerbates it.”